Psalmist's Cry

I just finished reading and watching Psalmist's Cry by Walter Brueggemann with Steve Frost--a five-week small group study on "embracing lament" (appropriate for Lent, I'd say) with video sessions featuring Walter and his thoughts. The video series was great overall, and I'm sure it would spark some great conversations. You might have to be a geek like me to truly appreciate it. The purpose of the videos is obviously not entertainment but the intellectual stimulation is off the charts!

In one video/chapter, Brueggemann said something I found somewhat shocking... but true. He said, "Praise hymns are so bloodless and innocuous. I think they're exercises in denial." He does go on to say, "...eventually you get to praise, but as you know, in the book of Psalms, you do the lament and come to praise, but you don't start there. You never start there." For the conventional thinker, he says, this whole concept "feels like blasphemy." And I'm sure that there are those who'd readily label it as such or at least claim that he's overstating the point. Well, he may be overstating the point but he's hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

In many of our churches, we have praise and guilt but we rarely treat ourselves to any true lament. We move forward in our praise in such denial so that we shape ourselves and our theology in such a way that pain no longer fits, suffering cannot be acknowledged, and our faith is flattened beneath the weight of certitude and absolutism. The sharp edges of the gospel are dulled and we essentially construct a faith that is "not of this world" in all the wrong ways. It's not real. It doesn't hold any relevance in regards to our very real pain. It has not the capacity to penetrate our situations. Brueggemann says, "until the hurt or the pain is made available to people, then we can just go on our way with denial, and everything is just fine." Sure we confess our sins, surface our guilt, but we need the kind of confession that really makes our hurt and pain available to us. Brueggemann said it like this, "my gripe... is you always begin with a confession of sin. Most of these lament songs [in the Psalter] there's nothing about guilt in them: 'You're not going to pin this on me.' So I think the pastoral work has to do with entitling and empowering people to make a case in the presence of God for the legitimacy of their own life."

Lament has a healing effect. Indeed, it has the effect of unlocking the power and the sharpness of the gospel to penetrate our real life and be for us a healing and liberating force. As Tom Wright puts it, "I am convinced that when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God's own grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring healing to us and new possibilities to our lives." This is why the season of Lent is so profoundly important and so extremely timely for the Church. In America, we have become a church of denial, a church of bloodless praise and arbitrary guilt. What we need is a season of honesty, to come into touch with our own suffering and pain so that we might speak prophetically into our real situation and offer a light of hope.